How did Bob Rafelson die? The Monkees creator, 89, hailed as 'guy who helped transform' Hollywood

Bob Rafelson boosted the careers of Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger


                            How did Bob Rafelson die? The Monkees creator, 89, hailed as 'guy who helped transform' Hollywood
Oscar-nominated director Bob Rafelson died at the age of 89 (Photo by 1987 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation)
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Bob Rafelson, who was best known for Jack Nicholson starrer 1968 flick ‘Head’ and for co-creating the iconic show ‘The Monkees’, died on Saturday, July 23. He was 89. The unfortunate news of his demise was confirmed by his ex-wife Gabrielle Taurek. Taurek is his second wife. The Oscar-nominated director is now survived by his sons with Gabrielle-Ethan and Harper, daughter-in-law Karen, and a nephew.
 
The news of Rafelson’s death comes months after the legendary actor and comedian Louie Anderson died in January 2022. He was admitted to the hospital days earlier after being diagnosed with cancer but sadly could not make it. Bob Saget is another icon that Hollywood lost in January this year. Speaking of celebrity deaths, Betty White died at 99 of natural causes on December 31, 2021. Chick Vennera, Jay Black, and Jeanette Maus are other public figures who passed away last year leaving their loyal fans devastated.
 
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Bob Rafelson with Jack Nicholson in 'Five Easy Pieces' (1970) (Photo by IMDb)
Bob Rafelson with Jack Nicholson in 'Five Easy Pieces' (1970) (Photo by IMDb)

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How did Bob Rafelson die?

Rafelson was born to a Jewish family in New York City in February 1933. His first professional job was as a story editor on the TV series ‘Play of the Week’ for producer David Susskind in 1959. He studied philosophy at Dartmouth College and worked as a disc jockey, edited translations of subtitles for Japanese films before working for Susskind in 1959. In 1963, Rafelson was fired after a heated dispute with MCA’s Lew Wasserman over the short-lived series “Channing.” Reportedly, he was personally escorted off the Universal lot by Wasserman.

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The late writer, producer, and director is considered one of the key figures of independent cinema. Speaking of his death, Deadline reported that the renowned filmmaker died of natural causes whereas, Wikipedia claimed the famous director died from lung cancer at his home in Aspen.

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Bob Rafelson boosted careers of Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Rafelson scored two Oscar nominations for co-writing and producing ‘Five Easy Pieces’, and for producing Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘The Last Picture Show’. The filmmaker also shot to fame for co-creating the television music group ‘The Monkees’ in 1966 which also won him an Emmy. The renowned writer worked with a bunch of fresh filmmakers at the time that included talents like Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg. Rafelson’s flourishing career apparently hit a snag when he got fired from the 1980 film ‘Brubaker’ for allegedly punching a Fox executive.

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Apart from co-creating 'The Monkees' he also had a huge role to play in the careers of Jack Nicholson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  His film 'Five Easy Pieces' rang the bell for Nicholson’s arrival as a major star, earning him his first best actor nomination. Rafelson worked with Nicholson as either co-writer or director on films including “The Postman Always Rings Twice” in 1981 and “Blood and Wine” in 1996. Nicholson considered Rafelson part of his “surrogate family.” He even co-wrote 'Head' with Nicholson, the 1968 film starred the Monkees. Rafelson also had a role in boosting the early careers of Jeff Bridges and Sally Field in “Stay Hungry” and Ellen Burstyn, whom he recommended to Peter Bogdanovich for “The Last Picture Show.”
 
He will always be known for his work on ‘Five Easy Pieces’ (1970), ‘The King of Marvin Gardens’ (1972), ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ (1981), ‘Mountains of the Moon’ (1990), ‘Easy Rider’ (1969), and ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971). Director Ingmar Bergman also had cited his admiration for Rafelson’s achievement with the production and direction of 'Five Easy Pieces'. Rafelson reportedly left Hollywood two decades ago to focus on his family.    

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Rafelson’s first marriage was with Toby Carr, the production designer on his early films. It ended in divorce. Later his 10-year-old daughter, Julie, died after a propane stove exploded in his Aspen home in 1973. 

Bob Rafelson with Michael Nesmith  in 'Head' (Photo by IMDb)
Bob Rafelson with Michael Nesmith in 'Head' (Photo by IMDb)

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‘For about 10 years, Bob Rafelson was totally untouchable as director’

The Monkees vocalist and drummer Micky Dolenz, the final surviving member of the music group, offered a statement on Rafelson’s death. “One day in the spring of 1966, I cut my classes in architecture at L.A. Trade Tech to take an audition for a new TV show called ‘The Monkees.’ The co-creator/producer of the show was Bob Rafelson,” Dolenz said. “At first, I mistook him for another actor there for the audition. Needless-to-say, I got the part and it completely altered my life. Regrettably, Bob passed away last night but I did get a chance to send him a message telling him how eternally grateful I was that he saw something in me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, my friend.”

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Tributes poured in for Bob Rafelson on Twitter as one of the users stated, “Bob Rafelson gave us The Monkees and "HEAD". For those two things in and of themselves his place in history is secured. Godspeed, Bob.”  Another posted, “For about 10 years, #BobRafelson was totally untouchable as director, writer & producer.” The next one shared, “Bob Rafelson has died. If my Substack wasn't thematically tied to politics, i would have written a post about "Five Easy Pieces," one of my very favorite films. RIP.”
 
Meanwhile, an individual tweeted, “Man didn’t realize bob Rafelson passed away yesterday. RIP to a guy who helped transform the movies.” Another chimed in, “RIP Bob Rafelson, who gave us one of the best endings in cinema.” One concluded, “Bob Rafelson was a serious filmmaker, infusing genre with mature understanding about sex and relationships between adults. Black Widow, Man Trouble, Blood and Wine are films to which I often return. RIP to movies before Marvel.” 

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